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INDIANAPOLIS — Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon didn’t hold back his frustrations about not getting enough carries early in his rookie season.

It appears the Bengals plan to give him what he wants.

Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin said that Mixon will be the lead running back next season, and they plan to lean on him heavily. This isn’t a surprise considering Mixon began getting double-digit carries when Jeremy Hill went on injured reserve late in the season. It does essentially seal Hill’s imminent departure, however. Hill will be a free agent in March, and has already posted his goodbyes to Cincinnati on social media. He was not even mentioned during Tobin’s news conference at the NFL scouting combine Wednesday.

That departure has been a long time in the making after the Bengals took Mixon in the second round of the 2017 draft. Running back usage was frustrating for both Hill and Mixon for much of the year. At the beginning of the year, Hill was often given the first series of each half, but didn’t have any snaps other than that. Against the Steelers in October, the team went away from the run entirely, causing Mixon to voice his opposition to the group’s lack of carries. Juggling three running backs between Hill, Mixon and Giovani Bernard wasn’t feasible with the team’s lack of offense last year.

“Joe really came on for us in the later part of the year, second half of the season. He’s going to be our bell-cow running back,” Tobin said. “We are going to combine him with [Giovani Bernard] and we really feel good about that position group.”

Mixon finished the season with 626 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 14 games.

Also on Wednesday, Tobin said he plans to get pass-rusher Carl Lawson on the field more after Lawson was mostly limited to third down and nickel packages in 2017. Lawson still managed 8.5 sacks as a rookie despite relatively limited playing time.

“We felt strongly when we took him,” Tobin said. “If the draft were going to happen again, he’d be selected much higher. He came on for us in a big way. Last year we were low in quarterback pressures. So it was something we went into the offseason to attack. We doubled up at the defensive end spot, or the pass-rusher spot, and both of those young guys came in and gave us what we were looking for. They gave us a spark. Carl‘s going to build on that. We’re going to expand his role. As he goes forward, he’ll be on the field a little bit more. Talking with coach [Teryl] Austin, he’s excited to work with him. We’ve got a lot of regard for him. We think he’s going to be a big-time player for us.”

As for 2017 first-round pick John Ross, Tobin said they expect him to have a big year. Ross came into the offseason rehabbing from shoulder surgery, played less than 20 snaps, and ended the season on injured reserve.

“We’ve had a run here where our first-round picks are hurt. William Jackson bounced back this year and became what we thought he was but he missed his whole rookie season,” Tobin said of the team’s 2016 first-round pick. “John [Ross] did not get off to the start he wanted. Injuries played a big part in that. We expect big things from him coming on in the future. He’s going to be a big part of what we do. But it’s hard to predict injuries. He got a slower start than what he wanted.”

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New England Patriots decline RB Sony Michel’s fifth-year option, pick up Isaiah Wynn’s, sources say

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The New England Patriots declined the fifth-year option on running back Sony Michel‘s rookie contract while exercising the option on offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn‘s deal, sources told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Monday was the deadline for teams to exercise the options for players selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. If exercised, those players’ 2022 base salaries become fully guaranteed.

The Patriots selected Wynn and Michel, both teammates at the University of Georgia, with the 23rd and 31st picks respectively in the 2018 draft.

Michel has rushed for 2,292 yards and 14 touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots. He also has 26 receptions for 258 yards and a touchdown. Although he rushed for more than 900 yards in each of his first two seasons, he appeared in just nine games last season after spending time on injured reserve with a quad injury suffered in September of last season. He finished with 449 yards and a touchdown, while averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

The Patriots would have owed Michel a base salary of approximately $4.5 million per Over The Cap, fully guaranteed, in 2022 if they had exercised his option.

Wynn missed his rookie season in 2018 after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Injuries have limited him to 18 games (all starts) total at left tackle the past two seasons.

By having his option exercised, Wynn will be paid a base salary of $10.4 million, fully guaranteed, in 2022.

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Cleveland Browns sign Malik McDowell, ex-Seattle Seahawks 2nd-round pick yet to play in NFL

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The Cleveland Browns have signed free agent defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who is attempting an NFL comeback following a series of injuries and off-field issues.

The 2017 second-round pick out of Michigan State was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, but never played for the team after suffering a head injury in an ATV accident and was ultimately released.

McDowell also was sentenced to 11 months in jail and three years of probation after pleading guilty in 2019 to a series of crimes in Michigan. He was charged with assault, resisting arrest and operating a vehicle while intoxicated after an incident in which he fought with two officers after a DUI stop. Then he was found in possession of a stolen truck, which led to a charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. As part of McDowell’s sentencing in Oakland County (Michigan), a judge ordered him to write four essays on finding meaning in life other than committing crimes, the importance of respecting the rule of law, the principles of the Declaration of Independence and how his behavior undermined them, and the importance of respecting property rights.

Browns general manager Andrew Berry said the team did “extensive work” on McDowell before signing him.

“We are certainly aware of Malik’s past,” Berry said in a statement. “He is accountable for his actions and has had to live with the consequences for decisions earlier in his life. We believe Malik is in a good place, personally and medically. He has taken the necessary steps to get on a healthy path, and has learned from his experiences. Malik understands the expectations we have of him as he attempts to make our football team. He is committed to taking advantage of the support network in place to become the best version of himself — both on and off the field — and we will support him as he attempts to make his return to football.”

McDowell was an All-Big Ten performer for the Spartans.

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Tennessee Titans NFL draft pick Rashad Weaver charged with assaulting woman

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans fourth-round NFL draft pick Rashad Weaver has been charged by the Pittsburgh Police Department with one count of simple assault in connection to an incident that occurred on April 18 at 2:28 a.m.

According to the police report, officers found a woman lying on the ground surrounded by a group of people on South 17th Street between East Carson and Bingham streets.

Weaver was not on the scene when the police arrived. One witness account said Weaver punched the woman. Another witness said she saw the woman fall to the ground but did not see Weaver punch her. The woman didn’t have any injury consistent with a punch to the head, according to the criminal complaint filed by Officer Anderson O’Kelly on Friday.

O’Kelly followed up with the woman on April 25, and she told him that she went to Ohio Valley Hospital on April 22 because she was vomiting. The complaint said that the woman was diagnosed with a concussion at the hospital.

The incident stems from an argument that Weaver and the woman got into at a bar. Weaver told officers who separated the two at the bar that the woman threw her drink on him while they were arguing. The woman told the police that she spilled her drink on Weaver.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5 at Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

“We were made aware of this news this morning,” the Titans said in a statement Monday. “We obviously take this seriously and are in the process of gathering details and working with the league.”

Weaver was selected by the Titans with the 135th overall pick after a standout career at Pittsburgh. In 35 games, Weaver collected 109 tackles (34 for a loss) and 17 sacks. He was named a consensus All-America defensive end last season after 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in nine games.

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